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Published: September 28th 2014
Bangkok. I wasn't planning to go there. Not at all. It was money that persuaded me, as it turned out to be a lot cheaper to fly to India via Bangkok, giving me a few days of essentially free travel. A short few days that would both introduce me nicely to the other-worldliness of Asia and, through a strange twist of fate, put me on a crash course to Amsterdam over the next half a year - the Bangkok of Europe. But that's travel for you.
I was struggling to decide what mood to be in on the flight over. Excitement about the months of travel ahead, or melancholy about leaving my adopted home of New Zealand yet again. Fortunately I didn't get much time to wallow due to the crazy Thai girl who sat next to me. I couldn't decide if she was just annoyingly naive or a drug smuggling lady-boy suffering from a perforated cocaine packet somewhere inside. She spoke to me at a million miles an hour, really loudly, with no pause for the safety demonstration. She asked me where my hotel was numerous times, to which I gave incredibly vague answers. She refused to
put her handbag under her seat, and wouldn't put her tray full of takeaway up before landing, ending in a full blown argument with the poor flight attendants. Weird. Why do I never get to sit next to the pleasant hot girls?
I was abuzz with excitement as I finally breathed in the fresh smog of a brand new city. It looked like the epitomy of Eastern Asia to me, and brought memories of my time in Hong Kong as a child to the surface. Gritty, modern, traditional, powerline-entangled, busy, and pretty damn unintelligible for the most part. Being the only whitey in a sea of Asians also helped to cement the fact that I was not in my staple destination of Europe anymore, and I wanted to explore like crazy. But first I had to wade through the oppressively humid night to find my sleeping quarters at a friendly hostel North of central called Khaosan Immjai.
Bangkok was a city of many firsts for me. It was my first time getting blessed by a monk, using a bidet, buying a tailored suit, doing a wheel spin in a tuk-tuk, eating a grasshopper, eating
The Monk who Blessed Me at Wat Po
Bit of a sham really. He gave me a string bracelet, said a few random words in Thai followed by "Good luck good luck good luck" then sprayed water on me and took my money.
a scorpion, watching a depraved ping pong show, and getting a foot massage. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Most of the above (with the definite exception of the bidet) was done in the company of Nikki and Catherine - 2 lovely English tourists that I bumped into while walking down the flooded Chao Phraya riverside. They had been in Asia for a while, and had some good local knowledge to get me through my first day (Like the fact that tuk-tuk drivers always try to take you to shops that you don't want to go to, for which they get commission).
We negotiated our way onto a 2 hour tuk-tuk tour for 20p each, after agreeing to only one stop at a shop. Even so, the driver still insisted on taking us to another shop, and just left us at our last stop when we declined. Obviously they're making more than 20p from the shops they take people to! Our day's touring contained a surplus of Buddhas, including but not limited to: the Happy Buddha, the Standing Buddha, the Reclining (and massive) Buddha, the garage sale Buddha, and more. The ancient sites all have amazing architecture
here, though my favourite was the 300 year old Grand Palace. It's easily as magnificent as any European palace from the outside, though visually incomparable with its multitude of colours and Buddhas, and was occupied until the early 20th century by Thai Royals. These days it's rammed with foreigners wearing funny pyjama trousers, mostly due to the fact that you're not allowed to enter with any bare skin above the ankles on display (which is literally going to be everyone in such a muggy place), and they generously offer traditional baggy trouser rental for a nominal fee of around £8. Top Tip: Wander just outside the front gate to rent your pyjama trousers for just £2, with the potential to buy them for a further £2!
That night I foolishly allowed myself to get talked into having a couple of beverages by my new English friends, despite being on antibiotics at the time (oops). I can now confirm that the infamous Khao San Road is as crazy as reports would have you believe. We sat at a table by the road, drinking £1 beer while getting trays of fried scorpions shoved under our noses by passing hawkers,
and watched the drunken rabble that arrive in droves to experience all the dodgy pleasures that Bangkok's well-earned reputation promises. I tried a fried grasshopper from a buffet style wagon filled with nasty looking snacks including cockroaches, maggots, and scorpions. I distinctly remember the hooks on the grasshopper legs clinging to my tongue on the way down. Taste-wise it was quite bland and a little fishy, probably due to the seasoning they put on it. It was exactly the same flavour as the scorpion I had to eat, a few beers later, to defend my man-honour in front of the girls. Later in the night a random salesman asked us if we wanted to go to a ping pong show, and to my surprise the girls were really keen. While in Bangkok, right? The show was about 20 minutes away by tuk-tuk, which we found out only after accepting the deal and following the crafty salesman down a dodgy alleyway. One scary wheelspin-filled ride through the streets later and we were in the middle of nowhere, at an establishment that made me glad I was already on antibiotics. Your typical Amsterdam sex show has nothing on these girls either, with
acts that seem to defy all sense of taste. I'll spare you the gruesome details here, but feel free to ask me about them sometime - It might help with the resulting night tremors if I talk about it.
The next day, tired from a late night of gallivanting, I decided to take a slow trip to Chinatown on the ferry. While waiting at the docks I saw a rather attractive European girl arrive, guidebook in hand. Great, I thought, I could do with some company. "Travelling alone as well?", I said - my usual line to any fellow solo travellers I wish to befriend. Her name was Carola, a Nurse from Holland, and it turned out she was indeed travelling alone. We had a great lazy day wandering around Chinatown together and eating strange things that I had no hope of identifying. There happened to be a big festival too, with Chinese dragons, fireworks, and a parade, which was a bonus!
We parted ways for a while, and I went to the final fitting of 2 tailored suits I'd purchased the day before. Look out world, Clay just got even stylier! I quickly
posted them to London before meeting up with Carola again for dinner. We settled on a nice quiet restaurant on the side of the road, where I had Pad Thai while sipping on a green coconut, and she had some sort of curried pineapple. It sure beat the hell out of fried grasshopper. We followed it up with a post-dinner half-hour foot massage. This really was a treat after days of nothing but walking, and at £3 a pop I could have stayed there all night. We walked around for a while on our freshly massaged feet before saying an affectionate goodbye after I walked her to her hotel. (I didn't see Carola again until January, when I happened to visit her in Amsterdam. We started seeing more and more of each other, mostly via Skype, before it all came crashing down in June, sandwiched horrendously between two sleep depriving 12 hour bus trips to and from Amsterdam. We're still friends though 😊)
Oblivious to the events I'd set in motion, I headed excitedly for the airport. I was on my way to India for a couple of weeks, followed by a trek up to Mount Everest
Base Camp. It was going to be legendary.
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